My one and only prediction for Euro 2012 is that Spain and Croatia will draw 2-2. This result would (will) ensure that both teams advance to the quarterfinals regardless of whether Italy manages to beat Ireland and – if it does – by which score. Thus, it will happen.
When it happens, the event won’t lack for dramatic irony: Italy, always the speculative team prone to making cautious calculations in order to progress in tournaments with the minimum risk and effort, will ultimately have been undone – as well as by its inability or unwillingness to take the game to Croatia in the second half of its second game (which is not ironic in itself) – by the more exact and assured calculations of others.
When it happens, the event will have an air of familiarity: not just because many players and officials of our national league – including defender Domenico Criscito, who was cut at the last minute from the team – have been involved in a match-fixing scandal so vast as to cast doubt on the non-predetermined nature of almost any game at the top level of Italian football, but also because the exact same scenario took place once before, at Euro 2004. Going into the last game of the group, Sweden and Denmark needed to draw 2-2 to be certain of progressing at the expense of Italy. And in the lead-up to the match the opinion in the country was divided amongst those who opined that just because we would have most assuredly found a way to fix the match had we found ourselves in the boots of either the Swedes or the Danes, it was unlikely that they would; and those who countered cynically that those brave, rugged Nordic warriors would ultimately find a way. And find a way they duly did.
|Cassano, Del Piero and Pirlo walk off the park at the end of Italy v. Bulgaria at Euro 2004|
Of course it is just possible in theory that that 2-2 result was not a fix. Perhaps it wasn’t, although it would be a remarkable coincidence and the way in which the last goal came about is decidedly suspect. However I find it interesting that some reporters – including the anonymous author of this piece on the BBC website – should be certain of the opposite. ‘It was clear early on,’ reassured us the Beeb, ‘that no Scandanavian pact had been signed as Sweden and Denmark sought to attack.’ This, beside the obvious question (how would you arrange a 2-2 without both teams going on the attack and trading chances and goals?), raises more interesting issues regarding the verisimilitude of sports and of the social Real itself. How do you know that the outcome of an event that depends on interactions between people hasn’t been predetermined or arranged at some time during its course? The history of match-fixing, both in its criminal forms designed to procure gain, typically through rigged sports bets, and in the more benign but in fundamental ways just as fraudulent amicable draws at the end of the season between teams that have nothing to play and teams that are seeking to avoid relegation (a most typical event in Italy), consists for the most part of games that look just like any other game, insofar as you would find it impossible to not only prove wrongdoing but in fact even suspect that anything is amiss on the evidence of the games alone.
And so too if you watched Denmark v. Sweden of Euro 2004 without knowledge of the score that would see both teams through you might not suspect anything, whereas with knowledge of the score you wouldn’t be reassured that a fix did not take place unless the final result had not been 2-2. Which makes my reasoning unquestionably circular. Nonetheless, my prediction stands. Spain and Croatia will draw 2-2, and it will be hard to tell that the result came about through anything other than the honest application of the rules of football to the chaos of physics.
(In fact, to the extent that I have a glimmer of hope that Italy might go through – assuming they beat Ireland, an event on which I wouldn’t bet my stereo – is that Spain might find it difficult to arrange such a draw. And I don’t mean morally, but purely from the standpoint of their logic of play, meaning the algorithmic, Playstation-like fashion in which their players move on the field, aiming for 100% possession of the ball. They couldn’t do it via a pair of own-goals, could they?)